DENNIS JOSEPH DAVISON
A short biography
Dennis was born in Northamptonshire in the small village of Ravensthorpe. His father, Joseph, was a WW1 veteran and mentioned in dispatches for his gallantry at Devilles Wood in Normandy. His grandfather Phillius, was a veteran from the Boer War and a military tailor. Dennis has fond memories of the Northamptonshire Regiment and Barracks where his grandfather made the uniforms for officers.
Dennis was involved with the Territorial Army and Home Guard at the start of WW2 and desperately wanted to join up for active service.
He was fortunate to join the Royal Armoured Division and Corps and worked in logistics. He had many different roles and was attached to the 51st Division during the Normandy Landings. They were involved in the forward advance and setting up the mass landing stages. They travelled on through France and into Belgium. Dennis spent some time on reconnaissance operations in Antwerp and went on to stay in the Army after the declaration of peace and worked on recovery operations. In total, he served for seven years and these remain some of his outstanding memories today.
On leaving the Army Dennis trained as a master shoe maker. He studied at Northamptonshire College for his technical diploma and worked at Crockett and Jones and Church’s shoe factories. This was in the golden age of British shoe manufacturing and, even today, the best shoes in the world are made there in Northampton.
It is clear that Dennis wanted more than a career in shoe making, and he set up his first enterprise buying and selling shoes on markets and travelling to farms in rural areas while saving for his first retail outlet. He saw an opportunity in Coventry, as the city was doing well economically was being rebuilt after the WW2 bombing. He saw the city as having potential, and, in 1953, Davison Family Footwear began in Lower Ford Street just outside the city centre.
From small beginnings he built the business, eventually creating a chain of shoe shops across the Midlands and moving into design and manufacture with the Walk Dri brand, amongst others. Dennis was active in the business community in Coventry and further afield and was involved in the charitable activities of the Royal Variety Club of Great Britain and Sunshine Homes. He supported local boxing and sporting events, and the Coventry Boys Club.
After his chain of shops was acquired by the Rubens Group (which own Addidas and brands), Dennis sat on the Rubens Group Board for a time. But he soon decided he preferred to be his own boss, and so set out to establish what we know today as indoor markets. Working with a small consortium, they took over the old Bentley department store in Coventry and a similar one in Nuneaton. The markets included his own Davison’s Footware units, which live on through Dennis’s son who still has stores in Coventry and Nuneaton.
Dennis retired to his beloved Normandy in the early 90s and lived there for 10 years. He became actively involved in the Normandy Day movement, served on the Board with founder, Luc Couilliard, and helped organise the annual 6th June peace picnics and events at the Normandy landing beaches.
On returning to England and his home in Coventry, Dennis set out on his next challenge. In 2010, at the tender age of 84, he set up the Normandy Day UK charity, and continues as the Chairman today. The charity has raised awareness of what happened in Normandy during WW2 for hundreds of children and young people and brings together artists, veterans and schools to help children and young people become peacemakers.
During the 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration in 2013, NDUK ran a large scale public engagement project funded partly by the MOD’s Armed Forces Community Covenant that involved six Coventry and Warwickshire secondary schools in interviewing, creative workshops and film making, culminating in a commemorative event at Coventry Cathedral on 6th June 2013.
In another project in summer 2014, an empty retail unit at West Orchards shopping centre in Coventry city centre became a ‘base camp’ where visitors could research their military family histories and write messages ‘to the fallen’, in appreciation of their ancestors’ role in both World Wars. Over 1,000 messages were left as a lasting legacy to those involved, and showed the significance of veterans in the public’s hearts and minds.
In January 2019, Dennis turned 96, and continues to share his experiences of the Normandy campaign with students at Cardinal Newman Catholic secondary school in Coventry, where he has helped establish a Peace Garden and actively promotes NDUK’s newest project, the Normandy Peace Orchard in Coundon Hall Park. Cardinal Newman students are captivated by his stories of the Normandy campaign and see Dennis as ‘living history’.
His family are proud of the recognition bestowed on Dennis by the French Government by awarding him the Legion d’Honneur and of his British Empire Medal.